The Call to Serve
By now, I hope you’ve had the opportunity to peruse our commemorative 20th anniversary edition (June 17th). It was quite a task putting together a magazine of that size, but we did, so we hope you enjoyed our “labor of love” and going down memory lane with Black Issues In Higher Education.
But in this edition we return to the present. We have conducted interviews with two university presidents, one of whom is outgoing.
Black Issues recently sat down with Dr. Charlene Drew Jarvis, president of Southeastern University in Washington, D.C. In addition to her presidential role, many in the Washington metropolitan area know her as a former city councilwoman in the District of Columbia, a position she held for 21 years. Jarvis is also the daughter of noted blood bank pioneer and Howard University School of Medicine professor, Dr. Charles Drew.
The opportunity to interview Duke’s outgoing president, Dr. Nannerl O. Keohane, was one I couldn’t pass up. “Nan,” as she is known, was the president of Wellesley College when I was a student there. In fact, we graduated together so to speak in 1993. I was graduating from college, and Nan “graduated” as well, leaving to become Duke’s eighth president. Like most college presidencies, hers wasn’t without some criticism, but overall students admired her accessibility and high profile on campus. We all knew who the president was, and we liked the fact that she had an office hour in which you could share your concerns and ideas or just say “Hi.” A “Wellesley because…” T-shirt lists the top 10 things students liked about the college and “Calling the president — Nan” was included among them. But after more than 20 years as a college and university president, Nan is moving on. She has decided to return to teaching and research and expresses her excitement about the prospect of returning to the classroom.
As you will read, Duke and Southeastern universities are very different institutions. One serves a majority African American population, consisting of many adult learners; the other is considered one of the “Southern ivies,” where family legacies and the love of college basketball run deep. Yet both women felt compelled to serve in their current capacities.
Having grown up in the South, Keohane says she felt deep roots to the region and wanted to come back to help a strong institution become even stronger. And Jarvis, through her work with the city council, recognized that women and people of color were not adequately competing for economic development projects and that schools were not focusing on entrepreneurship. The higher education route to getting students involved in entrepreneurship was where she needed to be, Jarvis says.
Despite the diverse institutions throughout the higher education landscape, Keohane says the role of the college president is basically the same regardless of campus profile. And I would imagine most college and university presidents share at least one goal in common — to leave the institution a better place than when they arrived.
Hilary Hurd Anyaso
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